Take the Kids for a Sleepover at ZSL London Zoo

There’s nothing like going on holiday with the family, and London is the perfect destination.  It’s been described as the city with something for everyone, and it certainly has a plethora of options to cater to people with varied interests and of different age groups. Kids, too, will be spoilt for choice by the number of attractions, activities, events, and programmes that cater specifically to their interests.

The location where you plan to be makes all the difference between having a splendid holiday or just another family trip. When looking for accommodation in London, it’s best to stay in a central location. Any of the hotels in Central London, or a Park Lane Hotel, will be just perfect.

A great family-friendly hotel to stay on holiday is The Montcalm London Marble Arch Hotel, which, apart from offering the best of facilities, is also reasonably priced and is a short distance from the city’s top attractions. One such place children will love to visit is the ZSL London Zoo. There’s nothing better than taking them for a sleepover at its newly opened Gir Lion Lodge. It’s one of the newest additions to ZSL London Zoo, and it’s swiftly gained popularity both with children as well as adults.

Once you step through the stone archway, amidst brightly coloured flags rippling in the wind, you’ll feel as if you’d been transported to another world. The reason is that the exhibit has been built to replicate the real life Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

Upon entering, turn a corner and you’ll discover a rustic Indian village with walls decorated in a variety of murals. The good thing is the fabulous view of the lion enclosure at ground level, with thick glass walls that ensure that kids of all ages can catch a clear view of the kings of the jungle. Four lions of the Asiatic species are housed here: Bhanu, a male, and three lionesses that are sisters: Heidi, Indi, and Rubi. The lionesses were hand- reared at the zoo, while the male was brought from Winnipeg Zoo. Bhanu’s hangout is modelled after a train station. This keeps with the actual scene in India, where trains pass through the sanctuary. In fact, there are frequent delays due to lions taking naps on the rail tracks.

The zoo authorities at ZSL brief guests about the conservation efforts they’re making in India. Children are also educated about the limited numbers of Asiatic lions in the wild, and their expressions show their captivation of the vets’ fascinating stories.

Children as well as adults appear spellbound at the sight of the pride in their environment—up close and personal. The pride seem to be content and completely at home, lazing around, or at times wandering over to the glass walls to inspect curious spectators. Thankfully, the thick glass wall protect observers from these magnificent beasts, which tower over humans when they stand on their hind legs.

Move along the path, which gently curves to higher ground, and you’ll reach the back of the enclosure. Several small holes within the walls allow kids to get a birds-eye view into the nooks and crannies where the lions take a nap.

Yet, to truly have a memorable experience, it’s necessary to join the sleepover for a thrilling night when the zoo closes.

A great place to enjoy the scenery is at the Terrace Restaurant balcony, where overnight guests are served refreshments (adults receive a welcome glass of champagne). The programme also includes colouring sheets and a trivia quiz to entertain the children. Once the park announces its closure for the night, only the guests for the sleepover and the park staff are left in the area.

Many of the at the Gir Lion Lodge’s wooden chalets, which also have a private veranda, are a stone’s throw from the lion enclosure. Every chalet has either two single beds or a double bed along with a sofa bed, which is perfect to accommodate two kids, as well as a tea/coffee maker, an en- suite toilet, shower, and sink. There’s also a large communal lawn, which offer kids ample space to expend their restless energy. The actual adventure, however, begins when dusk falls on the zoo.

There’s also a fabulous buffet dinner, which caters both to the palates of adults and kids. After dinner, kids receive pens and blank T-shirts to keep them engaged by encouraging them to create their own designs. Most children draw sketches of their favourite animals, with lions being very popular. Then there’s feeding time for the animals, which the zoo staff make very interesting and interactive. They begin with the aardvark’s dinner, which consists of crickets and wiggling maggots that are placed in cardboard cartons. The aardvark forages for its dinner within them. The fun continues until 10 p.m. and involves a lot of walking.

When night settles over the zoo, guests head back to their respective lodges, with the sounds and grunts of the zoo’s residents echoing across the open space. Board games are available, but children might already be to worn out to play and may simply be ready to hit the sack.

Dawn begins with a plethora of sights and sounds, as the zoo’s resident animals and birds awaken to a new day.

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